Steadfast Noon – Nuclear Sharing in NATO

Bombspotting XL 16-04-2005: NATO. Foto © vredesactie.beNATO runs an annual exercise to train pilots in the use of nuclear weapons at bases in Europe under the title of “Steadfast Noon”. The next one is scheduled to take place from October 15th to 26th in Büchel, a German Bundeswehr base in Rheinland-Pfalz and will involve pilots from five European countries. The nuclear weapons are B61 gravity bombs, supplied by the USA. The aircraft and pilots are supplied by European NATO members: namely Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

The issue of “nuclear sharing” – the NATO practice of storing US nuclear bombs at air force bases in Europe belonging to other members, training and planning for the delivery of those weapons to targets using airplanes flown by non-US personnel – is controversial. Many countries hold the practice to be a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which expressly forbids nuclear weapon states from passing on nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states. In the past two to three years, the existence of these weapons – about 180 altogether, 10-20 in each country in Belgium, Germany and Holland, 70-90 in Italy and possibly 50 in Turkey – has been the subject of debate in NATO. The populations in most of the “host” countries are opposed to the deployment of nuclear weapons and want their removal. However, finding consensus among all the member states of NATO is difficult and the “nuclear sharing” issue remains unsolved.

The campaign for the removal of the US nuclear bombs in Germany “” calls for the cancellation of the “Steadfast Noon” exercise. Spokesperson for the campaign and nuclear disarmament expert for the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Xanthe Hall, says: “The training of German and other European pilots in the use of nuclear weapons contravenes international law, as defined in the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice which states that the use and the threat of use is generally illegal.” The ICJ opinion was unable to rule on the legality of nuclear weapons’ use in a scenario where the very existence of the state was threatened. Hall says that this is patently not the case for Europe.

The last two “Steadfast Noon” exercises were held at Volkel in Belgium (2011) and Aviano in Italy (2010).

More information on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe and nuclear sharing can be found in the new report from Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists  “Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

NATO’s Nuclear Posture and Burden Sharing Agreements: an Italian Perspective

BASIC logoLaura Spagnuolo, research and policy officer for BASIC in London reports on a Round Table hosted by BASIC in cooperation with the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in Rome on June 15, 2011. The Round Table explored the issue of NATO’s Nuclear Posture and Burden Sharing Arrangements from an Italian Perspective.

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Nukes, What about them?

The upcoming NATO Defence and Deterrence Posture Review has sparked a number of debates, both here in the Netherlands and abroad. The Dutch Senate accepted a motion which states that the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons should be a target of Dutch foreign policy. Furthermore, it asks the Dutch government to elucidate its plan of action on nuclear disarmament. This coincides with an opinion poll which shows that 87 per cent of the Dutch people want to get rid of the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons that are based in Volkel.

And the NoNukes team has not exactly sit still either! Last month, we published a booklet titled “Nukes, what about them?”, which answers all the important questions about nuclear weapons in a simple and understandable manner. We’re also looking forward to the launch of our report “Withdrawal Issues – What NATO countries say about the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe” on the 30th of March in the Netherlands. For this report we spoke to all 28 NATO delegations and a number of key NATO staffers to ask them about the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. You can read all about it in this newsletter.

Susi Snyder